Monday (January 28) was the date of the fifth annual Best Sommelier of B.C. Competition, put on by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, British Columbia chapter. It all went down at Rogers Arena, and it was a long, gruelling day for many.
Twelve candidates threw their hats into the ring, and after many months of studying and tasting solo and with colleagues, it all came down to 9 a.m. on that bright and sunny day. That’s when they assembled to write the theory component of the exam, followed by a blind-tasting exercise.
It was almost noon when friends, family, and colleagues began to file in for the public component of the event, held in the second-level Captain’s Room. Vancouver-based wine educator D J Kearney welcomed the crowd and introduced the judges: Cactus Club Café service director Sebastien Le Goff, B.C. Liquor Stores category manager Barbara Philip, and Joey Restaurant group sommelier Jason Yamasaki.
The 12 candidates were welcomed into the room, where the top three finalists were announced, based on their theory and tasting results from earlier in the day. They were Christina Hartigan (wine director at Gastown’s Wildebeest restaurant), Leagh Barkley (wine director at Il Caminetto in Whistler), and—returning to compete on-stage for the third straight year—Matthew Landry (wine director of South Granville’s Stable House Bistro).
With the other two sequestered in separate suites (without phones or laptops), each sommelier had to perform various exercises in a mock restaurant setting for four different tables without knowing specifics of the tasks they’d have to accomplish.
Landry was up first and performed cool, calm, and collected; it was a benefit of having competed twice before, having experienced the general vibe.
The first challenge was to make a cocktail, a New York Sour, without being told its components or style. This was a bit of a curve ball, as mixing a drink has never been a part of the competition before. Then next challenge was to open a magnum of Champagne for a table of four while being peppered with questions about Champagne and other things by guests at the table, then fielding an extra request to pour out an additional 11 glasses “for guests that should be arriving soon”. Following that was triple-decanting a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for another table, again while taking various questions. Next was assessing a five-course menu that was displayed on a screen and offering wine-pairing suggestions, where all of them had to be from different California appellations. Then a wine list was presented that featured many mistakes that had to be found and addressed, along with a visual challenge of a series of winery, vineyard, and wine-personality images to be identified. Finally, the big one: a blind tasting of three wines, two spirits, and one cocktail in front of the crowd.
Service-wise, Landry seemed to be in his element, and although he struggled a tad with some of the visual challenges, he seemed to regain steam once it was time for the blind tasting.
Barkley followed, and this was his first time competing. He has recently returned to B.C. after six years spent in Europe, where he won first prize in the Bordeaux sommelier competition. He also seemed at ease with the service, but after all that time in Europe, he appeared to be somewhat challenged with the California components. For his first time participating in this competition, however, he certainly seemed to be a solid contender.
It was Hartigan’s first time on-stage here too, and she was visibly surprised and rattled by the surprise-cocktail component. Although she made it up as she went along—doing her best guesswork with an aspect where she admitted she didn’t know what she was doing—her nerves were quite apparent, with both shaky voice and hands. There was a palpable concern in the crowd that the curve ball would throw her into a tailspin for the remainder of the competition. Through the service parts she regained her footing, gradually appearing more confident and poised, then seeming to knock it out of the park when it came to the blind tasting.
A reception followed, where wine and cocktails were consumed and everyone could let off a little steam. At about 6:30 p.m., after a couple of hours’ deliberation, the judges announced Barkley as third-place winner, Hartigan as second place (but mentioning that her blind tasting scored best in the history of the competition), and—third time’s the charm—crowned Landry as 2019’s best sommelier in B.C.
His dedication to all things wine was immediately evident, because instead of whooping it up until the wee hours of the morning, he headed straight to the airport for a work-and-study trip in Italy.
A hearty congratulazioni to B.C.’s best somm!More